Virtue is a very ancient datum of observation. Of course one still encounters virtue in modern society but there is very little place for it in communities which live under the banner of materialism. A society which puts economics first is not addicted to virtue, for virtue consists essentially in obedience to the laws of life. When man is reduced to economic activity, he no longer fully obeys those natural laws. Far from being a Utopian dream, virtue roots us firmly in reality. A virtuous individual is like an engine in good working order. It is to lack of virtue that the weakness and disorders of modern society are due.
There are as many virtues as there are human activities. All are essential just as all our physical and mental functions are essential. They have no natural hierarchy although they have been arbitrarily divided into groups. Plato recognized four principal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. These virtues were adopted by St. Ambrose and incorporated into Christian theology where they became the cardinal virtues. The Church added to them the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
It is strange that the practice of virtue should not be taught in our schools since it is equally necessary to social and individual life.
Our material and spiritual needs vary. In certain countries and in certain circumstances, one virtue can momentarily become more important than another. Wherever the spirit of division and mutual hatred is rife, the most necessary virtues are courtesy, patience, forgiveness of injuries and brotherly love. In such regions as Normandy and Brittany, where alcoholism is bringing about the degeneration of a once notably vigorous people, the virtue of fortitude, which alone makes temperance possible, needs to be taught. All civilized peoples today badly need to practice prudence and eugenics. Plato considered prudence, along with justice, as the principle of all the other virtues. Its function is to harmonize the activities of mind and body and to restrain both from developing at each other's expense. Only the practice of this virtue can stop the breakup of Western civilization. In the time of Pericles, the Greeks practiced eugenics quite naturally and unconsciously; today eugenics should rank high among our preoccupations. Hygiene and medicine have lacked prudence by encouraging the breeding of the weak, the diseased and the degenerate with the result that the number of degenerates is constantly increasing. Eugenism has thus become indispensable to the welfare of the white races.
Thanks to the Puritans, virtue has acquired a bad reputation. It is confused with hypocrisy, intolerance, harshness and prudery. In actual fact, it is virilty, beauty and life. It protects individuals and social life, just as instinct protects wild animals, and is the very condition of our survival. It is as foolish not to be virtuous as to put water instead of oil into an internal combustion engine.
Ever since the morality of pleasure was substituted for pagan Stoicism and Christian morals, civilized people no longer perceive that virtue is a necessity. They think, like Rumen, that we have no obligation to be virtuous. The choice between virtue and vice should depend on each persons self-interest and pleasure. Today we realize that virtue is indeed obligatory for man exposes not only himself but his country and his descendants to decadence and destruction if he rebels against life's fundamental laws.
We are not isolated individuals; both in our families and in society we are members one of another. Any single person who lowers himself by vice harms the entire group. Similarly, the raising of any single life by virtue profits the whole community. Tolerance of evil is a dangerous error for no one is free to behave just as he pleases. Anyone who allows himself to indulge in intemperance, idleness, slander or any other vice should be considered as a public enemy.
Even the most corrupt societies still keep a definite sense of the value of virtue. Heroes and martyrs are instinctively honored by the crowd. Modern states have degenerated because, by drying up the springs of virtue in themselves, they have refused to obey life.